Part I of III: Excerpted from the forthcoming book Stress in the American Workplace
In the opening chapter, Dr. Hans Selye first defined stress as the “non-specific” response of the body to any demand made upon it. With the passage of time, Dr. Selye came to define stress as “the rate of wear and tear on the body. Still later in his career, Dr. Selye was again asked to define stress and responded, “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows.” These words sound vaguely familiar to the comment of “I know it when I see it” first used by United State Chief Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 to describe his threshold test or obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio.
Simply stated, stress is what we feel when we have to respond to a demand on our energy. Stress is a natural part of life, and occurs whenever there are significant changes in our lives, whether positive or negative. It is generally believed that some stress is okay (sometimes referred to as challenge or positive stress) but when stress occurs in amounts that individuals cannot cope with, both mental and physical changes may occur. Feeling stressed can feel perfectly normal, especially during exam time. One might notice that sometimes being stressed-out motivates the individual to focus on their work, yet at other times, one feels incredibly overwhelmed and finds it virtually impossible to concentrate on anything. While stress affects everyone in different ways, there are two major types of stress: stress that’s beneficial and motivating — good stress — and stress that causes anxiety and even health problems — bad stress.